Cork People Before Profit Aliance joins with people everywhere in condemning the appalling terrorist atrocity at the Charlie Hebdo office in Paris last week. There can be no excuse or justification for this horrible murder of journalists.
But as well as condemning this dreadful act it is necessary to question the response to it of much of the media and most politicians – so-called ‘world leaders’ – who are using this outrage to present themselves as defenders of free speech and freedom in general. In reality almost all of the leaders who marched in Paris have a record of persecuting journalists and infringing human rights. For example the Prime Minister of Turkey which regularly imprisons journalists for writing about the Kurds, or the Foreign Minister of Bahrain which both imprisons and tortures journalists or
the Foreign Minister of Egypt which is currently imprisoning Al Jazzera journalists and handing out mass death sentences.
Je suis Charlie. These are the words that have blanketed mainstream and social media feeds in recent days. Je suis Charlie. An expression of solidarity, of pain, of anger, of outrage, of disbelief. Je suis Charlie. A war-cry – if you attack our freedom of press, our freedom of expression; then you attack us all. Je suis Charlie. Nous sommes Charlie.
And yet, why all of this anger now? Why has it taken this heinous act to swing our collective moral compass so violently toward outrage? Why are we Charlie and not Ocatavio Rojas Hernández, lured from and shot four times outside his home in Oaxaca, Mexico last year? Why are we not Simone Camilli, killed along with three of her journalistic peers during the illegal war in occupied Gaza last summer? Why are we not any of the other 734 journalists murdered because of their profession across the world since 1992?
Mexico, Gaza and the occupied Palestinian territories, Syria, Iraq, The Philipines, Turkey, Russia – perhaps we are not shocked that many journalists lose their lives in these countries every year because we expect it. We believe that these countries are not free, they are not democratic, not in the way that we recognise and expect here in Western Europe; here in Europe we can say what we like – freedom of the press is sacred, it is a guarantee. Yet an examination of the World Press Freedom Index for 2014 finds France not proudly leading the pack in 1st, 10th or even 20th place, but instead lingering at 39, just below El Salvador. What of the United States, that beacon of freedom shining across the globe? Number 46, just above Haiti. Israel lies at 96, one above Kyrgyzstan, while Saudi Arabia, the great Middle Eastern ally of the West flounders at 164. Yes the murders of the staff of Charlie Hebdo were appalling and deserve our greatest condemnation and fury, but so too do the deaths of the 14 journalists in the occupied Palestinian territories and the 60 journalists in Syria who have been killed in crossfire and combat since 1992. Ironically the forerunner of Charlie Hebdo, itself, was banned in 1970 by the French Government for mocking the death of Charles de Gaulle (that’s why its called ‘Charlie’).
Is one of the reasons why our rulers have focussed on this particular outrage that it enables them to pose as freedom lovers when they are not and to present the so-called West as the embodiment of freedom when it is not?
We cannot afford to be selective in our anger any more – we must stand up for freedom everywhere, demand freedom everywhere: freedom from persecution, freedom from the hegemonic US war machine, freedom from the chokehold of corporate capitalism. And if we are to fight for this freedom, if we are to take to the streets in our hundreds of thousands as many across France and Northern Europe have done this weekend, then let us understand what that freedom truly means. Can we in Ireland stand over a free press that shamelessly self-censors at the slightest indication of disapproval from the government? Because this is exactly how RTE acted when rapped on the knuckles for giving airtime to satirical caricatures of the then Taoiseach Brian Cowen in 2009. Can we stand over a free press that gives disproportionate airtime and print coverage to certain political views and parties while ensuring the words of others are rarely heard? Can we stand over a free press that blatantly distorts figures and stunts coverage of truly democratic civic protests in our nation’s capital?
So yes, be angry, be furious in fact – but if we are calling for change then it must be for change everywhere. The murders must stop not just in France, but in Gaza and Mexico. The censorship must stop not just in France, but in Syria and Saudi Arabia. The stifling of voices must not stop just in North Korea and Eritrea, but in Ireland too. Nous ne sommes pas Charlie, nous sommes tous.
*Sources for all figures cited in this article are the websites of the Committee to Protect Journalists and Reporters Without Borders.